1. BE PREPARED
Conferences are crazy, and you want to be prepared for whatever opportunity an industry pro might throw at you. Yes, polish your pitch; yes, study up on the faculty. But one of most important things you can do is have your work handy at all times. On the off chance that you’re talking to an agent and she asks for some pages, you’d better have them—and I’d suggest having them on your person. Ask New Leaf Literary's Janet Reid (formerly with FinePrint Literary Management). If you’re the tree-hugger type, stick your work on a thumb drive and carry that with you.
When I attended last year’s Southeastern Writers Association conference, a last-minute schedule change resulted in an impromptu slush session, which required a query letter and the first two pages of your manuscript. While I didn’t have any hard copies on me, I did have my laptop. I threw those suckers on a flash drive, raced to the copy place down the street, and—bam!—I was ready to get some feedback from an agent.
Check Out These Great Upcoming Writers Conferences:
- Feb. 11, 2017: Writers Conference of Minnesota (St. Paul, MN)
- Feb. 16–19, 2017: San Francisco Writers Conference (San Francisco, CA)
- Feb. 24, 2017: The Alabama Writers Conference (Birmingham, AL)
- Feb. 25, 2017: Atlanta Writing Workshop (Atlanta, GA)
- March 25, 2017: Michigan Writers Conference (Detroit, MI)
- March 25, 2017: Kansas City Writing Workshop (Kansas City, MO)
- April 8, 2017: Philadelphia Writing Workshop (Philadelphia, PA)
- April 22, 2017: Get Published in Kentucky Conference (Louisville, KY)
- April 22, 2017: New Orleans Writers Conference (New Orleans, LA)
- May 6, 2017: Seattle Writers Conference (Seattle, WA)
- May 19–21, 2017: PennWriters Conference (Pittsburgh, PA)
- June 24, 2017: The Writing Workshop of Chicago (Chicago, IL)
- Aug. 18–20, 2017: Writer's Digest Conference (New York, NY)
2. DRESS THE PART
This simple cliché from the business world can help you stand out at writing conferences. As much as we might resist it because we’re writers (and, therefore, averse to anything as cold and unfeeling as the business world), writing is a business. You have to be able to sell your writing—and the first way to do that at a conference is to sell people on you. Your attire won’t get you a book deal, but dressing in professional garb will make you pop against all the schlubs who didn’t.
3. BE VISIBLE
How can agents fall in love with you if they never see you? Participate in as much as you can in terms of contests, pitch sessions, critiques, slush fests, as well as the classes themselves—even though some of these things cost more dough. You’ve already schlepped your way to the conference, so splurge a little on these “extras” because they represent unique opportunities to network, gain feedback—and get noticed. During my first year at SWA, I entered two novel contests. I wasn’t expecting to win either because not only was it my first-ever conference, it was also my first-ever manuscript. However, had I gone with my gut and not entered, I never would have won first place in one of categories, which I did (to my utter surprise!). As well, I signed up for every critique I could—and, in one, I learned I wasn’t writing chick lit, but young adult (a big “aha” moment in my writing).
4. BE OPEN
No one said going to conferences isn’t scary at first, but be open to doing some things that might normally make you cringe (i.e., striking up conversations with complete strangers, sharing your work at an open mic, etc.) because when else are you going to get these chances? If you take risks, others will wish they had the same bravado—and you might just impress some heavy hitters in the process.